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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

R.I.P. Trans Rights Heroine and San Francisco Drag Sensation Nikki Starr

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge VICTOR JONES
  • Victor Jones
UPDATE: This post has been changed to emphasize Star's gender identity as a trans woman of color.
Last week, San Francisco's trans community mourned the loss of a true civil rights pioneer, and the drag community the passing of one of its greatest performers, Nikki Starr, after a long illness. She may not have performed frequently during the last years of her life, but in her time she was regarded as one of the most commanding queens to hit the stage, particularly at the much-missed Marlena's. Although never an empress of the Imperial Court, her high-intensity, gospel-inflected numbers won her the title of Miss Gay — and even from her hospital bed, she was still styling wigs.

Let's turn the mic over to a few of the queens who knew Nikki Starr well...

"Very few people accomplish in a lifetime the things Nikki did," said Pollo Del Mar. "The world of drag in San Francisco has always had 'pockets,' divisions which embraced different styles of drag and shunned others. Nikki was the rare type of individual to move seamlessly between those worlds without ever compromising who she was as an entertainer or person. She could wow the hardcore Trannyshack community as easily as she did the crowd at Marlena's. When I started my weekly show, The GlamaZONE at The Cafe, Grandma Nikki took those kids to church every Sunday with her trademark gospel routines — and she was very proud to show The Castro how it was done 'back in the day.''"

"Nikki was a mother figure to so many and the stories she could tell — embellished, I'm sure — were amazing and theatrical and staggering with glamour and tragedy," said performer and Oasis co-owner D'Arcy Drollinger. "I had the honor of being one of the judges when she won the Tranny Shack pageant. We have lost a true San Francisco character. It makes me want to honor her by walking through my days more fierce, more fearless and more authentic."

"I am deeply saddened by her passing," said performer Sandra O. Noshi-Di'n't. "It's hard to believe because she was such a force to be reckoned with. I always believed that she was invincible and immortal. I met her early in my drag career and she instantly showered me with love like your nana. Nikki was the funniest person I have ever met. She had such a wit about her that could out read anyone, hands down! But, she was also very nurturing, like your wise and omniscient grandma. Nikki was also a immensely talented wig stylist. Even when she was ill in her hospital bed, she would bang out a wig styled for the Gods, in less than 15 minutes."

"The last few years, I would visit her at the hospital and listen to stories of what it was like to be transgender in the '80s," Pollo Del Mar added. "The struggles she had to overcome and her pride in working with iconic artists like Nancy Wilson of The Supremes and more. It is impossible to put into words what it means for our community as a whole to lose someone like Nikki, who I consider not only a true pioneer but also one of the single funniest, sharpest, most entertaining people I have ever met."

"I will leave you with a couple of Nikki's reads that had me rolling," said Sandra O. Noshi-Di'n't, "even when she was not feeling her best in her bed at Laguna Honda. She told me about a queen — who shall not be mentioned — who sadly had 'Stage 4, Stinkington's Disease.' And there was another unfortunate queen — who also shall not be named — who had more 'bumps on her face than the BofA parking lot.' I'm gonna miss you Nana, Nikki."

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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